Track Dogs – Blind Summits And Hidden Dips: Album Review

Latest offering from your favourite Madridēno four piece, confounding and confabulating any sense of genre with abandon.

Release Date: 6th October 2023

Label: Mondegreen Records

Format: CD / vinyl / digital

If there is an issue about Track Dogs, undoubtedly one of the success stories of the live folk and roots circuit these past few years, it has been the struggle to replicate the live experience to studio performance. But this, album number eight by my reckoning, number ten if you include an earlier incarnation as the Garrett Wall Band, may just be the one, the one to nail the genre to be filed under “Track Dogs music”.

With a front line of vocals, guitar, ukelele, mandolin, banjo, electric bass, trumpet and cajon, there is no back line, they each hogging the limelight, passing around any lead role. Folk, country, blues, old-timey, it’s all in there, as are generous surprise dollops of what sounds supiciously like trad jazz, courtesy Howard Brown’s trumpet. As the token Englishman in the band, his playing, whilst well capable of the full mariachi, shows more than a nodding acquaintance with the works of Kenny Ball. Which can make for an odd, if pleasing, meld. And, as eager and capable as they are to slot in and alongside other bands, notably their Show Of Hands collaborations, so too do they continue show a generous welcome to guest players for this record, broadening still further their genre-baiting horizons.

It is with that trumpet and rolling guitars that the album opens with, admittedly, tex-mex more to the fore than trad. A cowboy campfire from the Tijuana border is the feel and style evoked. Their four part vocals embellish The Way Of Things with the polished raggedness that is so much part of their calling card. Or is it ragged polish? Either which way, it is a delight. With Garrett Wall taking the lead, when they lapse into Spanish for the coda, one could forget their base is an ocean away from the image here portrayed, even if speaking the same language. Wall, who plays mainly guitar and uke, is one of the two Irishmen in the band, along with Dave Mooney, who plays bass and mandolin. Wall again takes the lead for Cover Your Tracks, a mellow road song, which features some delicate chimes of vibraphone, adding a wistful poignancy to perhaps the finest song written from within the band: “A sunset worthy of a song; might try to write it, what could go wrong?”

Quite what the Trumpton firecrew have to do with Be Your Silver Bullet, I am unsure, but they get a mention, instead of the more orthodox 1,2,3, 4, opening Be Your Silver Bullet, a piece of prime Nashville funk, should anyone ever take that up, stylistically. With guest sax maestro, Lou Marino, from James Taylor’s band, slotting in alongside Brown, it could be Muscle Shoals, were it not for the banjo acting as the rhythmic propellant that accompanies Mooney’s solid bass, that just may or not also be acoustic. R’n’b from when it was more to do with both the component parts, rather than the melasmic mediocre fare that gets labelled such these days. File alongside Lindisfarne’s Don’t Ask Me, from Dingley Dell, in mood if not instrumentation. The brass solos are incandescent.

Now that you’ve slackened up your limbs, this is just the momemt to limber up further, for Water The Lawn, a glorious bluegrass hoedown, awash with falsetto oo-hoo-hoo train whistle vocals. Clearly the time to highlight member number four, the extravagantly bearded Robbie K. Jones, who tackles the lead voice here, as well as the banjo, whenever it appears. He is also the percussion man, sitting atop his cajon and maintaining the rhythm. It is he, too, on the vibes, so enjoyed earlier. And it is he whom you may well have spotted, at just about every folk festival in the English calendar this year, all hat, beard and grin, whether turning up on stage, mingling with the crowd or just standing at the bar, an unmistakeable and affable figure. The lyrical content of this song carries a pretty sage bit of advice, too, around, when the grass looks greener elsewhere: “Just stay at home, and water the lawn“.

Two further guests join for the spiky backbeat driven Peace Inside, the cello and fiddle of Adrianne Wininsky and Chris Demetriou, their strings a joy alongside the trumpet. It’s simple and charming. Simply charming. Play Nice then sticks with a jittery rhythm and downhome life advice. The bassline is the focus of attention in the undercurrent, more tinkles of vibraphone shimmering in. The chanting mantra of the vocal chorus contrasts with the counter currents running in all directions. Essence of Track Dogs, I guess. Back to banjo, next, for a bluegrass standard, if one that the Grand Ol’ Opry once blacklisted for being too risqué. Sounding as if the band are familiar also with the same named Otis Redding song, the banjo is followed by a deep and funky bass, the two styles fusing as a dirty blues, if with some cheesy old style choral repeated vocal refrains. Marvellous stuff, and, rather than this being the place for Brown to parp out an old school horn solo, as you might expect one instead offers a wonderfully “post-‘grass” solo that is pretty special.

Strange Days isn’t the Doors one, being more a reggae infused skank, the trumpet and bass giving it the full natty, before one of those vintage trumpet solos that Brown can conjure up, effortlessly. More vibes and moany choral vocals give it a weird cross-cultural ambience that, against the odds, punches above its weight. Vibraphone and trumpet, now occupying a whole different time zone and locale, also beckon in the record’s second cover version, in the same sort of slot as occupied by Carolina In My Mind for the last album. And Rhiannon, yes, that one, like Carolina, it’s fine, good even, with the interplay of the mentioned instruments a real ploy to the song, but the delivery somehow thereafter palls. I am sure this represents an important part of their original busking repertoire, but it stands out a mile amongst the songs around it, smacking of filler, or an unnecessary crowd-pleaser. It would be great, or better, on a TD all covers album, or even as part of a Mac tribute by multiple artists, but here, well, it just feels forced, despite the additional sultry vocal from local Madridēno artist, Lu Garnet. Sorry.

Disaster At Sea is then a rum’un, perhaps arising from a little too much time spent with Mssrs. Beer and Knightley, being a short faux-shanty, with bizarre lyrics and a harmonium, from Alice Jones, swelling, like the English Channel. “Yo ho ho-oh and wey hey ho”, indeed, let alone a cargo of wood-peckers, to perhaps explain the disaster. It was apparently “inspired” by the work of, and is a tribute, by Jones, to late folk poet, Les Barker, who wrote the words. If nothing else, it expunges any thoughts of Rhiannon but seems an odd ending to this album, which mostly can only cement the rising repute of the quartet. Recorded and produced, at ‘home’ in Madrid, Spain, by, as ever, Germán Gutiérrez, look out for the band as next summer comes around, they already notching up a fair few planned festival gigs, as well as providing support for Show oO Hands at their presumably farewell Royal Albert Hall show, next April.

Here’s the ‘single’, Cover Your Tracks, which epitomises their breezy feelgood sway.

Track Dogs online: Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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